DOIN’ 90 THE ENTIRE WAY: Rob Derhak and moe. hit the road… again.
JJ: How much difference do you generally notice in the band from tour to tour?
RD: How much difference…?
JJ: Between the way you’re interacting, between the way you guys are improvising… that sorta stuff.
RD: From tour to tour, there’s this dichotomy between the guitar players that I notice. One time Chuck seems to be the dominant player and the next tour Al’s the dominant player. It’s sort of like a “Lord Of The Flies” thing going on. (laughs)
JJ: Kill the pig, slit his throat, spill his blood… Isn’t Al a vegan? (laughs)
RD: Who has the conch for that week…
JJ: Do you guys talk about how the band is evolving at all?
RD: Yeah. We talk about it. I know that we want to try changing a little bit and getting more instrumentation involved in what’s going on. Like, Al wants to play more mando… Not just that. Al’s talking about maybe bringing his keyboard along next time and trying to work that into a couple of tunes if he can play it well enough. We want to develop our sound. We just want more, I guess. We want to do what you can do recording… we want to be able to do that live. Chuck’s talking about trying to work his sax into a couple of things. I’ve been writing these tunes that are all like these 70s rocker tunes. For some reason they just have this KISS-type feel. I think you just kinda evolve. You don’t really talk about. There are things that you wanna try doing, but there’s this evolution that you can’t really control. It’s just how you’re feeling at the time.
JJ: You guys didn’t start out as a jam band, did you…?
RD: Not really. We didn’t really know what the hell we were doing. All of our friends’ bands were all power-pop bands or punk bands. We sort of had this Fishbone/Chili Peppers influence. That was mostly because of me, I guess. Chuck liked that too. It was just what we were listening to. I didn’t even really listen to the Grateful Dead all that much or even the Allmans. I saw Phish. At first, I thought I wasn’t into it, but then I start to get into them. That kind of made us turn more into a jam band when we got into that scene…
JJ: Did it happen accidentally or did you guys decide “okay, we’re gonna put an open section in here now and see what happens”?
RD: It kind of happened after Al had been with us for a little bit. He had always played in bands that had more open sections and solos in general. Before, we would just say “okay, we put 16 or 8 bars of solo here” and practice it till we got it right, or we thought it was right. Al would suggest just seeing where it went and we’d sit there working on it. We didn’t really know how to jam but just kept doing it anyway. It was real sloppy and, basically, after five years you just kind of figure out what each others’ styles are and develop your own sound.
JJ: What was a typical old-school moe. gig like? Pre-Al…?
RD: Oh, pre-Al? We’d set up in someone’s basement in college. We’d play, get drunk, and people would scream at us. It was usually just a friend’s party: you set up and play. There would be, like, 30 people there and all of them, pretty much, were your friends and they’d get all fucked up and be like [in falsetto drunk voice] “yeah, yeah play” whatever… a cover… like Fire or something. It pretty much stayed that way even when we started doing bar shows. It was basically all your friends. There would be people there would be people there who would just random stop by, the house would clear out, and your friends would stay and just get hammered… and you’d be there till four o’clock in the morning. And you end up hanging out at the bar after hours, drinking and playing pool.
JJ: So how’s that any different from what you do now? (laughs)
RD: It’s a lot different. We’re too tired to do any of that shit now…
JJ: How do you go about writing setlists these days? Do you have a structure that you tend to follow?
RD: We try to keep the first three tunes in-your-face type tunes. The only structure there is… Well, I guess Al and I write setlists differently. When Al writes a setlist he likes to put all really structured poppy-sounding tunes in the first set and maybe one jamming tune and then he likes to put the jamming tunes in the second set. I like to mix it up a little bit. We both like to put big energy, attention-grabbing songs in the first three songs. Usually, it’ll be something where all three of us get to sing. I’ll sing one, and then Chuck, and then Al… Chuck doesn’t write that many songs, so it’s kinda hard.
JJ: Why did you end up taking the question marks out of the setlists? [The band, for a while, included question marks as variables in their setlists. For example, a list might read: Four > ??? > ??? > Four.]
RD: It was just an experiment. It’s not like it’s gone forever. We like to do things differently. We put the question mark in there because it was something that was new and different and then it got to be old and boring. (laughs). We started to get these formulas. We started to figure out what other people were doing and it got to be a little too formulated. We just took it out. We like to have people come and have us be different each time they see us.
JJ: Personally, I thought it provoked some really cool playing, but that could’ve just been a product of where you guys were at the time, anyway.
RD: It was cool. I’m not against it. It’s not something we won’t do again. I think we did it once or twice on this tour. Part of it, too, was sometimes the jams were so long that they were boring us and it was like “okay, this isn’t going anywhere”. We’ll probably do it again. It’s nice to think of something different each time. Some sets we say “let’s just do the radio version of something” and other times we’re like “let’s put a jam here where there’s never been before”.
JJ: How do you know when a jam is over? I’ve seen times where somebody wants to keep going and somebody wants to stop…
RD: Oh, yeah… (laughs)... and then it’s like “oh, I thought I was leading the jam. “Yeah, but you’re the bass player, man…” (laughs). We have signals, but you have to be listening and paying attention, at least. Many times, one guy is lost and everybody is back into the song. That’s happened to me. I can think of specific times that’s happened to me on the last tour. Generally, it always happens to me in Stranger Than Fiction. Chuck has a guitar riff that he does that I never seem to catch that everyone else seems to catch…
JJ: I also noticed that you guys haven’t been doing a hell of a lot of segues lately…
RD: We haven’t been?
JJ: Yeah. Was that a conscious thing or did you not even notice until I just mentioned something…?
RD: I noticed. I don’t think of it. I don’t know. It’s not conscious in the sense that “you know what, we’re gonna do a whole tour without segues” type thing. When I’m writing setlists, I come up with the tunes and then I think “should I put a segue here… nah, it’s not gonna work.” We haven’t done it in a while, which probably means that we’re gonna start doing it again. It’s sort of the same jamming into the question mark sort of thing. A lot of it started with having Jim start out the tour with us. We had like two weeks to prepare and have him learn all of our material and not just on percussion; on guitar, flute, and melodica. It was like “let’s just get the tunes down first, and we can get into the other stuff later…”
JJ: Was that the reason you didn’t end up debuting any originals this past tour? That’s kinda weird for you…
RD: We have two new originals that we worked on during that session but it just didn’t seem like they were done. Our soundchecks have been taking so long that we haven’t had time to work on them. We actually did have two new tunes… we still do. I’ve had two weeks off and I’ve written, like, four tunes.
JJ: Nice. Anything we’ll be hearing anytime soon?
RD: No, I doubt it. We don’t have time to rehearse them. But what we’re doing is that after this tour’s over, we’re doing about three weeks of rehearsal. I know Al’s got a bunch of new tunes and I’m sure Chuck does. We’ll be working on all that new material for the summer. You might see a lot of new tunes. We’re gonna start trying to record.
JJ: What’s the songwriting process generally like for you guys? How often does a song come in complete? How often do you guys completely rewrite stuff?
RD: Generally, whenever I write something, I come up with the verse, the chorus, and maybe a bridge, and then bring it into the band. I try to keep my mind open. Someone might have a part that fits the song great. We just work it out together. It’s pretty much the same thing for Al. We’ll try to come up with the real guts of the song and try to get the band involved in finishing it. That’s basically how the songwriting process has evolved. It used to be we would just sit down and jam out stuff, in the real old days, and try to come up with words and stuff there. As you kind of evolve as a songwriter you have more of a vision. Now, when I’m working on tunes, I try to bring them to the band and have them put their stamp on it so it doesn’t sound just like me on acoustic guitar…